June 18 2004

Barrera vs Ayala: Friends Turn Foes

By Fiona Manning

They are two of the biggest little fighters in the world. They are genuine Mexican superstars, both are former world champions whose epic ring battles have been christened “fights of the year.”

Both fighters too have everything to lose this Saturday, at the 7,900-seat outdoor Home Depot Center arena in Los Angeles, Ca.

Marco Antonio Barrera (57-4 40KO’s) squares off against Paulie Ayala (35-2 12KO’s) in a fight which will resuscitate one career and finish the other. Everybody knows it. Including both fighters.

“You are in for a real treat,” promised Top Rank promoter Bob Arum at the pair’s final press conference at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel on Wednesday.

“This fight is going to be a classic. Both of these fighters come to fight. Neither quit. They’ll get knocked down and come back to win.

“You’re getting a great deal for this great, great fight as well. The $25 seats at the Home Depot Center would sell for ringside prices in Vegas.”

For Barrera, this is the chance of redemption following a disastrous loss to Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao last year. A fight, by everyone’s estimation, Barrera should have won.

“I have no excuses,” he told La Prensa San Diego. Except for the fact he was undergoing a painful professional divorce from longtime manager/promoter Ricardo Maldonado.

That separation meant that Barrera had to release the services of his longtime trainer, Oscar Maldonado, who is Ricardo’s son.

On top of that, while training for battle against Pacquiao in his customary mountain base of Big Bear Lake, CA, Barrera was given a sneaky rabbit-punch by Maldonado who leaked private information to the media that Barrera had undergone brain surgery.

Barerra, who trains with fearsome and focused intensity had to deal with the media onslaught and in the midst of that drama, had to evacuate from his training camp when wild fires threatened Big Bear.

“God threw everything at me but the kitchen sink,” said Barrera on Wednesday. “The brain surgery…now that was a small cyst that had nothing to do with boxing but it had to be done. I am fine.”

Rest assured, California’s top doc, Dr. Paul Wallace has checked Barrera thoroughly and says he is good to go.

“I have lost before and I have come back before,” said Barrera. “Trust me. I am not finished yet.”

The Baby-faced Assassin as he is called, is not only putting his legend on the line but his long-standing friendship with his opponent Paulie Ayala.

“That’s boxing,” said Barrera. “Friends love each other but beat each other up. I respect him but I will hurt him.”

“I don’t know who Ayala’s wife is going to root for,” said Henry Mendez, trainer of Ayala. “Her maiden name is Barrera and it’s possible she might want him to win. It might turn out they’re related, cousins even? But all jokes aside, Ayala has trained rally hard for this fight and this is a must win situation.”

Ayala said, “I wanted to make this fight for the love of boxing. I love the sport. I’m up against one of the best world champions out there. I still consider him a champion. I’m used to fireworks in a big fight. Barrera also has that experience. It’s going to be just him and I in the ring and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Barrera listening to Ayala talk, clapped his shoulder. “I’ve been training so hard for this fight, but it might be hard if it turns out we’re family,” he said, with a laugh.

Undercard action includes rising star Jermain Taylor(20-0 15KO’s) taking on former world title challenger Raul Marquez (35-2 24KO’s).

“This is the first fight of the second half of Jermain Taylor’s career,” promoter Lou di Bella said. “This is a big test and this will show everyone where he ranks with the elites of the middleweight division.”

In a joking manner, di Bella then turned his head towards Raul and added, “I’ve got nothing but love and respect for you Marquez, but I hope you get your ass kicked Saturday night.”

“Marquez is in great shape,” said his trainer Ronnie Shields. “He’s in line for some big things and a win over Taylor is exactly what he needs to open up those possible big fights at middleweight.”

How much further can Marquez really go however? Both his eyes have such bad scar tissue, one punch and they open like butterflies. He was forced to stop two rounds into a bout with Shane Mosley last year and Taylor packs a mean punch.

“There is no quitting in Marquez,” said Arum.

Di Bella agrees. “We’re ready for all he has to offer. I do believe that Jermain Taylor will accomplish big things and eventually be in the big fights with the [Bernard] Hopkins’ and [Oscar] De La Hoya’s of the world. A win over Marquez will put us in line for just that.”

Raul Marquez took the podium. “I’m a little Mexican so there should be no excuse for you to run in this fight. Let’s go to war! Let’s fight! If people want to go see someone run, go watch the Olympic torch running. I’ve been waiting for this fight to happen for a long, long time. Now they think he’s ready for me. We’ll see.”

Jermain Taylor, cool and calm, smiled as he took the podium. “He wants a fight? I’m gonna’ give him a fight! I know them Hispanics like a good action fight too, so I won’t be doing any running.

“I’ll be right there in front of you. Just you wait and see. Running? No one gonna’ be running if you promised what you said. Be there in front of me because I’m gonna be there too.”

Also on the undercard, Jhonny Gonzalez (23-4 21KO’s) plans to continue his impressive streak after stopping Alejandro Montiel and previously undefeated Roger Gonzalez, both in the 6th round.

“The main event is going to be a great fight,” said a confident Gonzalez. “But I’m going to do my part as well. I’m glad to be a part of an event with the fighters involved. Every fight on the card is going to be great.”

“See? This is what a fight is all about.” said Bob Arum wrapping things up. “Fighters that respect each other. No nonsense. No trash talking. Nothing to try and sell or hype the fight. Just down to business.”

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